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As the City of Seattle Reimagines Public Safety, Mayor Durkan and Fire Chief Scoggins Announce the Launch of Second Health One Unit Extending Service to University District and Ballard

Health One 9-1-1 response team staffed with specially trained firefighter/EMTs and case manager helps people with mental/behavioral health or substance use disorderand non-emergency medical issues access services  

Since November 2019 launch 56 percent of those served by Health One were experiencing homelessness 

SEATTLE (April 13, 2021) – Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins announced today the launch of a second Health One unit to expand regular service of the program to Ballard and the University District. The second unit begins operating on April 15 and will be staffed with a team of two specially trained firefighter/EMTs and a case manager from the Human Services Department Aging and Disability Services Division.  

The team will serve people with non-emergency 9-1-1 calls with issues like substance abuse, non-emergency medical issues and a need to access services. Health One continues to focus on providing alternatives to transporting individuals to hospital emergency departments.  

“Seattle has pioneered community safety initiatives like Health One. As we continue to reimagine public safety, we will expand civilian public safety alternatives like Health One that sends a firefighter and social worker to a 9-1-1 call. This next year, we will continue to scale Health One to neighborhoods across Seattle,” said Mayor Durkan. “Our Seattle Fire Department has led the way in serving our community in new ways, and their work is connecting more people to the right resources in our community.”  

With a second Health One unit becoming operational, the program will add Ballard and the University District to its primary service area which also includes the downtown core and Capitol Hill neighborhood. The units can deploy City-wide at the crews’ discretion, and will further reach clients in South Seattle and SODO neighborhoods with the first unit. The second unit will be located at Fire Station 2 in Belltown and operational from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. The program now allows for full weekday operations between the two units. Health One is dispatched through SFD’s Fire Alarm Center by calling 9-1-1 and cannot be contacted by members of the public directly.  

“Health One is now, more than ever, an integral part of Seattle’s crisis response system. Last week I experienced first-hand how an immediate response by a team of case managers and firefighters better connects individuals with necessary care and services,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold, Chair of the Public Safety and Human Services Committee. “The expansion of Health One to include a second unit today, and a third unit later this year, means that more behavioral health calls can be redirected away from an armed police response to individuals and providers better capable of assisting individuals in need.”

“As Chair of the Budget Committee during last year’s budget I helped secure additional funding for the expansion of the third Health One mobile response unit. This award-winning program is saving lives, saving resources, and treating people in holistic ways that helps stabilize folks and prevent the revolving door in and out of emergency rooms and shelters,” said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, Position 8, Citywide. “I have seen firsthand the transformative impact that Health One has had in our city residents. The firefighters and case manager teams allow for a more holistic approach to serve the public, especially those with behavioral and mental health complications. My hope is that we can continue to expand this program throughout the city as we continue to invest in public safety alternatives – Health One is a great model to bring to scale.” 

“We know we need to expand our response to people experiencing homelessness and distress on our city streets and so I applaud the Durkan Administration for expanding this pilot program that combines firefighters and case managers from our Human Services Department to prevent more expensive and dangerous situations throughout Seattle,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen who represents District 4, which includes the University District neighborhood. “Our shared goal in the University District and throughout Seattle is a more effective intervention that proactively links each person who is in crisis on our streets to the essential mainstream services they need rather than reacting and sending them to expensive visits to emergency rooms or, worse, the criminal justice system.” 

“The expansion of Health One to Ballard will bring the right first responders to many 911 calls in our community. When Health One is not available we respond with a Fire Engine, a Medic One, a Police Officer, an AMR, and a short stay in the Emergency Room without meaningfully addressing why 911 was called in the first place,” said Councilmember Dan Strauss, who represents District 6. “Health One creates lasting solutions for the people they respond to because the two firefighters and case manager triage the individual and connect them with the resources they need to remain stabilized after the 911 response. Health One creates efficiencies in our 911 response system and reduces the number of 911 calls placed because they provide upstream solutions.” 

In 2019, 42 percent of SFD’s medical calls were deemed “low acuity” calls, many of which were related to social service needs including homelessness, mental health, drug and alcohol use and chronic medical issues. Prior to the launch of Health One in late 2019, low-acuity calls dispatched an SFD unit and generally resulted in no action or a non-emergency transport by an ambulance provider to a hospital’s emergency department. In 2020, only 19% of clients seen by the Health One unit resulted in transport to a hospital. The other clients served required on-scene services from Health One, referral to support services or transport to an alternative non-hospital setting.  

“Fifty-six percent of the clients served by Health One in 2020 reported they were experiencing homelessness. From a 26-year-old man looking for a shelter bed to a 92-year-old woman with mobility needs to a 44-year old man with an opioid use disorder, this program has proven to safely and effectively provide services to those who need it most, including our unhoused population. Members staffing these units have received specialized training and always respond with patience and compassion when interacting with clients. We look forward to launching our second unit into service, and expanding our primary service area,” said Fire Chief Harold Scoggins.   

“The Seattle Human Services Department has been a partner in the Health One program since its launch and we are pleased to partner in the further expansion of this important program. Pairing services with frontline emergency responders helps us provide the right level of care for people in need. By expanding this nationally recognized model, we ensure that more people—in more neighborhoods —will get the help they need when they need it. Thank you to the Seattle Fire Department and Mayor Durkan for their leadership on this program,” said Helen Howell, HSD Director. 

In addition to urgent care, referral and transport resources utilized by the program include primary care, next-day appointments, connection with behavioral health organizations, referral to city-contracted homeless outreach providers and shelters, case management within SFD’s High Utilizer and Vulnerable Adult programs, and more. In addition to standard emergency medical services equipment, the vehicle is also equipped with outreach supplies including food, beverages, and clothing for unsheltered clients.  

“Expanding this service is a crucial step in delivering more appropriate care for individuals suffering on the streets of our business districts. We’re excited to host a Health Two response unit in the University District and to see 9-1-1 response shifting to a more service-based model with caseworkers joining first responders on calls.” Don Blakeney, Executive Director of The U District Partnership 

“Seattle Fire Fighters have been responding to and caring for vulnerable members of our community for decades but the Health One program gives us the tools and resources we need to help solve the particularly complex issues many of our neighbors are facing,” said Kenny Stuart, President of Seattle Fire Fighters Union, IAFF Local 27. “Seattle Fire Fighters are excited to see this program expand so we can provide the help these patients need while still maintaining our ability to provide life-saving fire and rescue services when every second matters.” 

The City’s Emergency Response Interdepartmental Team, which consists of SFD, Human Services Department, Seattle Police Department, and Public Health Seattle-King County, continues to assess how the City can best address the needs of the people who most frequently utilize the City’s emergency response system, and how interventions might mitigate challenges faced by emergency responders when engaging with frequent utilizers.